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The Wedge Guy: The best golf club innovations?

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Being in the golf equipment industry for nearly 40 years, I have paid close attention to the evolution of golf equipment over its modern history. While I’ve never gotten into the collecting side of golf equipment, I have accumulated a few dozen clubs that represent some of the evolution and revolution in various categories. As a club designer myself, I ponder developments and changes to the way clubs are designed to try to understand what the goals a designer might have had and how well he achieved those goals.

Thinking about this innovation or that got me pondering my own list of the most impactful innovations in equipment over my lifetime (the past 60 years or so). I want to offer this analysis up to all of you for review, critique, and argument.

Woods: I would have to say that the two that made the most impact on the way the game is played is the introduction of the modern metal wood by TaylorMade back in the 1980s, and the advent of the oversized wood with the Callaway Big Bertha in the 1990s. Since then, the category has been more about evolution than revolution, to me at least.

Irons: Here again, I think there are two major innovations that have improved the playability of irons for recreational golfers. The first is the introduction of the numbered and matched set, a concept pioneered by Bobby Jones and Spalding in the 1930s. This introduced the concept of buying a “set” of irons, rather than picking them up individually. The second would be the introduction of perimeter weighting, which made the lower lofted irons so much easier for less skilled golfers to get airborne. (But I do believe the steadfast adherence to the concept of a “matched” set has had a negative effect on all golfers’ proficiency with the higher-lofted irons)

Putters: This is probably the most design-intense and diverse category in the entire equipment industry. History has showed us thousands of designs and looks in the endless pursuit of that magic wand. But to me, the most impactful innovation has to be the Ping Anser putter, which has been…and still is…copied by nearly every company that even thought about being in the putter business. Moving the shaft toward the center of the head, at the same time green speeds were increasing and technique was moving toward a more arms-and-shoulders method, changed the face of putting forever. I actually cannot think of another innovation of that scale in any category.

Wedges: Very simply, I’ll “take the fifth” here. To me, this is a category still waiting for the revolutionary concept to bring better wedge play to the masses. The “wedges” on the racks today are strikingly similar to those in my collection dating back to a hickory-shafted Hillerich and Bradsby LoSkore model from the late 1930s, a Spalding Dynamiter from the 50s, a Wilson DynaPower from the 70s,  and so on.

Shafts: Hands down, to me the most impactful innovation is the creation of the carbon fiber, or graphite, shaft. After fruitless ventures into aluminum and fiberglass, this direction has improved the performance of golf clubs across the board. You haven’t seen a steel-shafted driver in two decades or more, and irons are rapidly being converted. Personally, I don’t see me ever playing a steel shaft again in any club – even my putter! But beyond that, I’d have to say the concepts of frequency-matching and “spine-ing” shafts made it possible to achieve near perfection in building golf clubs for any golfer.

Wild card: This has to go to the invention of the hybrid. After decades of trying to find a way to make clubs of 18-24 degrees easier to master, Sonartec and Adams finally figured this out. And golfers of all skill levels are benefitting, as this is just a better way to get optimum performance out of clubs of that loft and length.

So, there’s my review from a lifetime of golf club engineering. What can you all add to this? What do you think I missed? I hope to see lots of conversation on this one…

 

*featured image via Ping

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, or SCOR, but you would certainly know his most recent accomplishment: the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2015. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have possibly stimulated other companies to also try to raise the CG and improve wedge performance.

32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. ChipNRun

    Jul 1, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    Oops, hybrid description flew OB! The early 2000s did NOT herald the invention of the hybrid. Rather, it marked the return of the Bulldog, a trouble club from the late 1800s through hickory age. The Bulldog had a very small head – exemplified by a clubface the width of two golf balls … a shorter shaft and about 25* loft… and was used to chop the ball out of moderate rough.

    For picture of replica, see: https://louisvillegolf.com/products/25-degree-bulldog

  2. michael kirby

    Jun 29, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    Well done.
    Informative. Concise. Quality information.

  3. Peter

    Jun 27, 2019 at 8:26 pm

    Under wedges a good try was TM with the replaceable face. Didn’t stick around but it was still a good idea. I wonder if vokey or Cleveland did this if it would have been more popular.

  4. Mike CR

    Jun 27, 2019 at 9:41 am

    The ball has seen a big change. If you ever played balata you would agree. The new balls are longer and straighter and don’t smile at you after hitting it in the belly with your sand wedge.

  5. Daniel Poehler

    Jun 27, 2019 at 7:59 am

    Good article, Terry. One innovation that I believe we can add is the addition of grooves to the face of putters to start the ball on a forward roll as soon as it’s struck as oppose to a skid then roll. I believe the “Yes” putters started the trend and now vertually every manufacturer has their version of this.

  6. Big Wally

    Jun 27, 2019 at 4:49 am

    I would say hollow head drivers and perimeter weighting in irons and putters for sure but in terms of evolution it has to be the golf ball. From gotta percha to the Haskell to balata to today’s urethane the ball goes further, straighter and lasts longer because it doesn’t cut.

    • Scott

      Jun 27, 2019 at 5:15 pm

      yes, the ball. Maybe the biggest change of all, not even on the list.

      • Terry Koehler

        Jun 28, 2019 at 10:01 am

        I can certainly agree, Scott. But I was focused on clubs with my list. There is certainly no question that the evolutionary/revolutionary changes to the golf ball have impacted the game a great deal, maybe more than all the things I listed combined!!!

        Good call.

  7. Tom54

    Jun 26, 2019 at 6:58 pm

    I concur with the larger headed drivers as being very influential. I’m not sure of its size compared to today’s 460 cc limit, but the first time I remember hitting my Biggest Big Bertha , I swear I thought I was cheating. How could you miss these things I thought? The ball looked like a pea sitting there on the tee next to that head.

  8. The Boss

    Jun 26, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    The biggest innovation on the horizon is owned by Green Golf; get ready to scrap all of your putters.

  9. DrRob1963

    Jun 26, 2019 at 5:08 pm

    I recall seeing an interview with Gene Sarazen, where he was asked if his addition of bounce to a wedge (to create the modern sand wedge) was the greatest invention in golf.
    “No!”, he replied. “it was the lawn-mower!”

  10. Robin

    Jun 26, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    Hat to cover bald spot .

  11. dtrain

    Jun 26, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    TM Pittsburg persimmon
    Big Bertha/Great big bertha
    Ping Eye 2
    Ping Anser
    TM Rescue clubs

    PXG…I jest, I jest.

  12. Nils Nelson

    Jun 26, 2019 at 2:57 pm

    Wild Card: The Izzo Dual Strap golf bag.

  13. James

    Jun 26, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    Please elaborate on that last comment regarding irons?

    • Terry Koehler

      Jun 26, 2019 at 5:44 pm

      Thank you James, That is probably a good dive for a future article. Stay tuned!!!

  14. Ty Web

    Jun 26, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    Advanced Bermuda grass strains for anyone in the south.

  15. Corey Knapp

    Jun 26, 2019 at 2:45 pm

    The sand wedge!

  16. bobbyg

    Jun 25, 2019 at 3:57 pm

    The best golf club innovations? The slot. Thank you Wilson, Adams, and Nike, or anyone else I have failed to mention. Put one with the secret sauce in a club face and the ball goes further. Plus it keeps errant shots from going too far off line while also expanding the sweet spot for hacks like me.

    • William Davis

      Jun 26, 2019 at 6:19 am

      Wilson Reflex circa 1978? made an odd noise and I snapped face of 7 iron which was supposed to be impossible. Still, happy days.
      For all the club improvements I understand handicaps have not followed suit.

  17. Doug

    Jun 25, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    Terry, sole grinds evolved with turf conditions. I’m not sure what the club would be that was the revolution, but my limited knowledge points me toward Ping irons with wider soles for more effective bounce and a lot of radius along the leading edge. When fairways got more plush, those irons delivered improved turf interaction for a lot of players. Your own wedge designs reflected improvements that have been much copied in modern iron soles. A lot of attention is now paid the bottom of iron heads and you had a big part in that.

  18. scooter

    Jun 25, 2019 at 12:19 pm

    Not just the metal wood, but the 460cc driver complete with all the innovations that led to increased trampoline effects, improved forgiveness, and the max COR limit. Also, the large number of options in high-MOI mallet putters, not just Ping Anser style.

  19. Greg

    Jun 25, 2019 at 12:07 pm

    Can you expand upon your thoughts regarding this:
    But I do believe the steadfast adherence to the concept of a “matched” set has had a negative effect on all golfers’ proficiency with the higher-lofted irons

    • Johnny Penso

      Jun 25, 2019 at 8:47 pm

      That statement would make more sense is he had said, “proficiency with the lower lofted irons”, meaning, many players would probably benefit from a 4-6 hybrid in place of a 4-6 iron.

      • Jake

        Jun 26, 2019 at 3:06 pm

        Thought the same thing. If he did mean proficiency with wedges, etc. would be good to have a little explanation. ???????

  20. Christopher

    Jun 25, 2019 at 11:33 am

    I would argue that the modern (sand) wedge itself was the innovation, the bounce and sole was a huge benefit to golfers.

  21. Rich

    Jun 25, 2019 at 10:56 am

    Agreed. Additional: rangefinders, professional-level solid ball, soft spikes, cast irons (implied in perimeter weighting), high MOI everywhere.

  22. Robert

    Jun 25, 2019 at 10:19 am

    Golf carry bag with a stand
    Range finder

  23. Born

    Jun 25, 2019 at 10:14 am

    I’d say the Innovation of moving from wooden to steel shafts changed the game more significantly across the board when compared to graphite innovations

    • TR1PTIK

      Jun 25, 2019 at 2:48 pm

      I’d beg to differ. The ability to create more diverse profiles via graphite makes it the more significant innovation. The only major drawback of graphite shafts is a lack of weight for higher swing speed/stronger players who need it and even that is starting to be addressed.

  24. The dude

    Jun 25, 2019 at 9:41 am

    Shoukd be top golf equipment innovations….and then you could include the golf ball….the BIGGEST revolution in golf…

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Mondays Off

Mondays Off: Steve recaps his match with the 2nd assistant and Knudson’s golf weekend

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Steve recaps his match against the 2nd assistant and if he won or lost. Knudson gets asked about a guys golf weekend and if his back will hold up. Knudson tosses his brother under the bus.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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5 men who need to win this week’s Open Championship for their season to be viewed as a success

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The year’s final major championship is upon us, with 156 players ready to battle it out at Royal Portrush for the Claret Jug. The oldest tournament in the sport presents the last opportunity for players to achieve major glory for nine months, and while some players will look back at this year’s majors and view them as a success, others will see them as a missed opportunity.

Here are five players who will tee it up at The Open, needing a win to transform their season, and in doing so, their career.

Adam Scott

Adam Scott has looked revived in 2019 with four top-10 finishes, including a T7 at the U.S. Open and a T8 at the PGA Championship. The Australian hasn’t won since 2016, and at 39-years-old, Scott knows better than anyone that the final narrative over his career comes down to whether or not he can add to his lone major championship victory he achieved at the 2013 Masters.

Speaking following his final round at Pebble Beach last month, Scott stated

“I’m angry; I want to win one of these so badly. I play so much consistent golf. But that’s kind of annoying; I’d almost rather miss every cut and win one tournament for the year if that win was a major.” 

A gut-wrenching finish cost Scott the Claret Jug at Royal Lytham and St. Annes seven years ago, and the 39-year-old has held at least a share of the back-nine lead on Sunday on three occasions at the event since 2012. The Australian’s statement following the U.S. Open says it all; a successful 2019 depends on whether or not he can finally put his Open Championship demons to bed.

Dustin Johnson

With a win in Mexico earlier this year, Dustin Johnson has now made it 11 straight seasons with at least one victory on the PGA Tour. However, Johnson continues to be judged, rightly or wrongly, on his struggles to capture major championships. The 35-year-old remains on one major victory for his career, which is a hugely disappointing total for a player of his talent.

Should the American remain stuck on one major for another nine months following this week’s event, it’s hard to imagine the 35-year-old feeling satisfied. Johnson came to Pebble Beach last month as the prohibitive favorite and failed to fire, but it’s what occurred at the PGA Championship which will leave a sour taste. With Brooks Koepka feeling the heat, Johnson had the opportunity to step up and reverse his major championship fortune, but two bogeys in his final three holes just added to his ‘nearly man’ tag at the most significant events.

A win in Northern Ireland removes both the ‘nearly man’ and ‘one major wonder’ tags, and turns his least successful season, victory wise, into one of his best.

Rory McIlroy

Whatever happens this week at Royal Portrush, Rory McIlroy’s season has been impressive, but it’s missing something big. That something is a win at a major championship, and it’s been missing since 2014. To avoid a five-year drought at the majors, McIlroy must win the 148th Open Championship at home, and with it, claim the greatest victory of his career.

Speaking prior to this week’s tournament, McIlroy stated

“I want to win for me. It’s not about trying to do something in front of friends and family.”

The home-town hero is currently in the midst of one of the greatest ball-striking seasons of all time. But without a win at a major to show for it, there’s undoubtedly going to be frustration and regret in the aftermath. On the flip side, should the Ulsterman triumph this week then it would likely eclipse his double major season success of 2014, and according to the man himself, it would also eclipse anything that he could ever go on to achieve in the game thereafter.

Rickie Fowler

Without getting his hands on a major, the narrative behind Rickie Fowler is not going to change. ‘The best player without a major’ tag has been there for a while now with Fowler – who hasn’t been close to shaking it off in 2019. Victory at the Phoenix Open back in February snapped a 24-month streak without a win on the PGA Tour, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone considering the 30-year-old’s season a success without him finally getting the monkey off his back and entering the winner’s circle at a major.

Justin Rose

Justin Rose turns 39-years-old this year, and each season from now to the house, he will be judged on his success at the majors. With  wins at the U.S. Open and Olympics already achieved in his career, a successful season for the Englishman now depends on whether he can become a multiple major champion.

Talking ahead of his bid to win his first Open Championship, Rose said

“People don’t come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you won the FedEx!’. It’s the US Open, the Olympic gold, the Ryder Cup. I’m 40 next year and yes, the clock is ticking.

I’ve had three top threes in the majors in the last three seasons, with two seconds, so I know I’m right there doing the right things. It’s just a case of making it happen again, because the chances won’t keep coming forever.”

Rose’s sense of urgency may stem from tough losses at the 2017 Masters, 2018 Open Championship and more recently at the 2019 U.S. Open. In Rose’s favor is that the average age of winners of The Open since 2011 is almost five years higher than the average age of those who won the Masters, and over eight years older than those who won the U.S. Open. To elevate his 2019 to elite levels, Rose is relying on victory at Royal Portrush.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Scoring Series Part 2: Pitching

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As I wrote two weeks ago, I consider there to be five basic elements to “scoring range performance”, and I dove into the full swing shorts irons and wedges last week. This week I’m going to address “pitching,” which I define as those shots with your wedges that require much less than a full swing. In my opinion, this is the most difficult part of golf to master, but the good news is that it is within reach of every golfer, as physical strength is pretty much neutralized in this aspect of the game.

Before I get into this, however, please understand that I am writing a weekly article here, and do not for a minute think that I can deliver to you the same level of insight and depth that you can get from any of the great books on the short game that are available. There are some genuine “gurus” out there who have made a living out of writing books and sharing their expertise—Dave Pelz, Stan Utley, et al. One of my favorites from a long time ago is Tom Watson’s “Getting Up and Down.” The point is, if you are committed to improving this part of your game, it will take much more than a few hundred words from a post of mine to get you there.

I will also suggest that there are no short cuts to an effective short game. I know of no other way to become a deadly chipper and pitcher of the ball than to invest the time to learn a sound technique and develop the touch skills that allow you to hits an endless variety of shots of different trajectories, distances and spin rates. As the old saying goes: “If it were easy everyone would do it.” In my opinion, it is mostly short game skills that separate good players from average, and great ones from good. Those greenside magicians we see on TV every week didn’t get there by spending minimal time learning and practicing these shots.

So, with that “disclaimer” set forth, I will share my thoughts on the basic elements of good pitching technique, as I see it.

As with any golf shot, a sound and proper set up is crucial to hitting great pitch shots
consistently. I believe great pitch shots are initiated by a slightly open stance, which allows you
to clear your body through impact and sets up the proper swing path, as I’ll explain later.

Your weight distribution should be favored to your lead foot, the ball should be positioned for the shot you want to hit (low, medium or high) and maybe most importantly, your hands must be positioned so that they are hanging naturally from your shoulders. I firmly believe that great pitch shots cannot be hit if the hands are too close or too far from your body.

The easy way to check this is to release your left hand from the grip, and let it hang naturally, then move the club so that the left hand can take its hold. The clubhead will then determine how far from the ball you should be. To me, that is the ideal position from which to make a good pitch shot.

Second is the club/swing path. I believe the proper path for good pitch shots has the hands moving straight back along a path that is nearly parallel to the target line, and the through swing moving left after impact. This path is set up by the more open stance at address. The gurus write extensively about swing path, and they all seem to pretty much agree on this as a fundamental. Taking the club back too far inside the line is probably more damaging than too far outside, as the latter is really pretty hard to do actually. My observations of recreational golfers indicate that the inside backswing path is “set up” by the ball being too close or too far from their feet at address, as I explained earlier.

I also believe (from observation and experience) that many recreational golfers do not engage their torso enough in routine pitch shots. This is NOT an arm swing; a rotation of the shoulders is tantamount to good pitch shots, and the shoulders must keep rotating through impact. Stopping the rotation at impact is, in my observation, the main cause of chunks and bladed shots, as that causes the clubhead to move past the hands and get out of plane.

Finally, I’ll address swing speed. Again, in my observation, most recreational golfers get too quick with this part of the game. The swing is shorter for these shots, but that should not make it quicker. One of my favorite analogies is to compare golf to a house painter. In the wide-open areas, he uses a sprayer or big roller for power, and works pretty darn quickly. As he begins to cut in for the windows and doors, he chooses a smaller brush and works much more slowly and carefully. Finally, he chooses very specialized trim brushes to paint the window and door trim, baseboards, etc. I like to compare our wedges to the painter’s trim brushes. Slow and careful wins.

I think learning distance control is the hardest part of becoming a good pitcher of the ball. And there are many approaches to this part of the equation. My opinion is that your expectations and therefore your approach to this aspect of it should be commensurate with your willingness to spend the time on the range or course. And I just do not know of a short cut, I’m sorry to say. But I will share something that I’ve learned works pretty well and is reasonably easy to learn.

First, find a “half swing” length that feels comfortable to you, and by that I mean repeatable. For most, it seems to be where the lead arm is about parallel to the ground. From that position, I like to think of three different downswing speeds – country road (i.e. 50 mph), neighborhood driving (30 mph) and school zone (15 mph). We’ll leave freeway speed for the driver, and regular highway speed for our fairways, hybrids and irons.

If you can internalize what these three speeds feel like for you, it only takes a little time to figure out how far each wedge goes at these three speeds, and then you can further dissect this by gripping down on each wedge to cut those gaps even tighter.

Again, I’m limited by space in this blog, but these ideas will hopefully get you thinking about meaningful practice and implementation. And in no way, are these few words intended to cover the subject as thoroughly as Pelz, Utley and others have done in series of books and videos. The more you learn and practice, the better you will get. That’s just the facts.

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